Voting over Zoom: How the DA plans to elect leaders virtually

DA interim leader John Steenhuisen, flanked by chief whip Natasha Mazzone and national chairperson Ivan Meyer.
DA interim leader John Steenhuisen, flanked by chief whip Natasha Mazzone and national chairperson Ivan Meyer.
Jan Gerber
  • The DA has communicated its plans for an online elective conference on 31 October.
  • Delegates with access to the internet will participate from home, while those without connectivity will be ferried to venues to participate.
  • The DA said it was considering the Opavote online voting system.

There will be no need for party agents as the DA moves voting to online platforms, according to a proposal put forward for the 31 October elective conference.

The document, put together by interim federal executive chairperson Dr Ivan Meyer, which News24 has seen, says the party will ensure there is a presiding officer, a deputy and an assistant deputy presiding officer. They will fully understand how the system works and be able to assist delegates going to different venues to participate in the conference.

The three, in this instance, will also mean the role of party agents, who usually check and verify ballots, will not be necessary.

However, Meyer says, if they are required, a limited number of agents will be present.

READ | DA's Mbali Ntuli asks members to reject branch meetings from proceeding

"A staff member will support the assistant deputy presiding officer with all administrative functions at the venue that may be required," said Meyer.

He said the assistant deputy presiding officer will ensure free and fair elections, and ensure delegates have adequate connectivity and ICT equipment at the venue to participate in the conference.

They will also report to the presiding and deputy presiding officers on proceedings at venues, along with signing off on the validity of the proceedings at specified venues.

Meyer also proposed that vigorous technical and non-technical training take place to prepare the delegates for what would be a first in South Africa.

Zoom

In the draft document, the party has told members the conference, set to take place on the Zoom virtual platform, will adopt policy conference resolutions, constitutional amendments and elect new leadership.

There has been fierce debate for and against the conference going ahead. Some, including two leadership hopefuls - Mbali Ntuli and John Moodey - shared their concerns with party representatives over the move possibly leaving behind those without access or funds to participate in a protracted conference.

In pre-empting the problems the DA could face if it goes ahead with the elective conference on digital platforms, Meyer lists a set of risks, along with steps taken to mitigate it.

Some of the issues raised include load shedding, the lack of ICT equipment, poor or no connectivity, data, lack of email addresses, not familiar with zoom and whether venues will comply with Covid-19 regulations.

Meyer says in the document that a list of branches, which are valid and eligible to hold annual general meetings in preparation for the conference, will be finalised in the coming days.

The AGMs, set for August, have also been described as ill-advised by Ntuli, who has warned that the DA risked getting its own members infected with Covid-19 or leaving some out of what should be a free and fair process.

But Meyer reassured delegates that their votes will remain a secret and that no one will be able to vote more than once - with the system currently being considered.

Secret ballot

Some have already expressed their disdain for the proposed plan, questioning how the conference will be seen as legitimate when it occurs with debates and motions, some of which are often raised from the floor.

"The STV system is complex enough as it, now the party wants delegates to go through five to six pages of how do to do it on the OPA system. They are creating nothing more than a logistical nightmare," one party leader said to News24 anonymously.

Another complained that the secrecy of ballots still remained an issue, claiming the Opavote system would not deliver as the DA hoped and would ultimately expose delegates.

Meyer said the online voting software - Opavote - would also allow the party to continue with its single-transferable vote and rank-choice approach when electing leaders.

"The administrator creates an election on the OpaVote admin console and loads into the system the names of the candidates, and the list of email addresses of voters. When voting opens, each voter is sent an email with a unique link to the webpage where they can submit their ballot," explained Meyer.

The DA's federal council, which meets this weekend, is expected to endorse the FedEx decision for the conference to go ahead.

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